By Kate Joynes-Burgess, Social Media & Communities Manager, The National Trust

Planning. It’s not exactly a crowd puller, is it? Charity campaigns on social media tend to seize on potent themes — from global poverty to fighting against the closure of a dogs’ home. So why did we choose this challenging topic? That’s easy. It chose us. After all, our core purpose is protecting special places for ever, for everyone — not just places we own.

England's planning system has protected much loved places from harmful development for decades — and directed development to the places where it's needed. When the Government’s proposed reforms set to turn this on its head - using the planning system as a tool to promote economic growth ahead of everything else — we knew we had to speak out.

Making Planning for People

Precisely because planning is a topic that makes people glaze over, we needed to find fresh ways to stand up and shout about what’s at stake. That’s where social media came in — as part of our integrated digital and communications strategy.

With an engaged following of more than 40,000 on Twitter (now approaching 50,000) and more than 30,000 on Facebook (now almost 35,000), we had a unique opportunity to spark online conversation around the Government’s planning reforms. We quickly picked up the hashtag #NPPF — named after the draft National Planning Policy Framework — and helped establish this as the dominant label for tweeting on these reforms.

And by keeping our finger on the pulse of developments — both parliamentary and in the media — and tweeting in real time (and often after hours) we were able to leverage our position as a trusted authority on the subject. It was also our mission to provide platforms to enable people to add their voice to the debate, to get their friends to listen up and inspire them to get involved.

Clear calls for action

Providing clear calls to action is key in any campaign but particularly when you’re seeking to raise awareness around a hazy subject. So we created our Planning for People website with three simple steps to:

1) Find out more about our campaign

2) Sign our petition

3) Write to your MP

Including social sharing buttons enabled our supporters to spread the word to their own online communities via Facebook and Twitter. With the launch of our Planning for People website, we set up a new hashtag - #planning4ppl — that spread around Twitter by those tweeting about our campaign. We pulled through their tweets onto our website - packed with ideas on how planning reforms could be improved.

Engaging new — and existing — audiences

We knew it was crucial to crystallise why the planning system - while imperfect - is so important for shaping the communities in which we all live and work. So we created our ‘why you should care’ video to show just that and shared this on our social networks. We set up a planning blog and published a regular news digest — compiled by @NTpressoffice — to keep our audiences abreast of important developments.

We reached out to new audiences and helped get people talking around a subject that would never normally be front page news. We also started conversations with people already tweeting about #NPPF and responded to all direct tweets to @nationaltrust about our campaign — whether from supporters or detractors.

We kept our commitment to 100 per cent engagement by tweeting everyone who’d sent a tweet to say they’d signed our petition. We also responded directly to everyone who commented or posted on our Facebook page about the Government’s draft reforms. By opening a dialogue with our supporters we were able to drive traffic to our campaign website. Facebook and Twitter became our top referral sites for the page, second only to our National Trust website itself.
Staff and volunteers deliver the petition to Downing Street (which we live tweeted). Left to right: Tom McCarthy, Geri Silverstone, Ellen Reaich, Chris Heels (Emily Keenan / NT: Simon Apps)

Deepening relationships

Taking our online relationships offline, we researched the leading bloggers in this space and invited them to a tweet-up (yes, a real life meeting!) for a briefing and discussion. At key campaign moments, we ran tweet-chats and invited people to add their voice to the debate. We also wrote a guest blog for Save Our Woods — something we plan to build on as our campaign enters the next phase. And to give greater recognition to our super supporters, we created a Twibbon (and Fwibbon) which many of our backers continue to wear as a virtual badge.

Quick stats to date

- Almost 5,000 uses of #planning4ppl

- Almost 4,000 mentions of @nationaltrust (or National Trust) and #NPPF

- Almost 4,000 mentions of National Trust and planning

- More than 70,000 petitions signed online

- More than 150,000 petitions signed at our places

- Around 80,000 page view per planning update each week on our Facebook page

Within industry circles, we’ve earned recognition for snatching seventh place in The Charity Social 100 Index. This is thanks not only to this campaign but to over three years of engagement on social platforms. But, there’s no doubt that the planning campaign has enabled us to reach — and pleasantly surprise - new audiences. As one Twitter user put it: “Who'd have thought it of the tweed brigade!